Being an Archaeologist on St Kilda

Kilda 360 kildaHi Everyone!

We are getting into the rainy season (known as summer in much of the rest of the world) here on St Kilda and that means I get more days in the office and away from the slippery slopes. It’s a good chance to talk a little about what I do as the archipelago archaeologist on the last and outmost double barrel World Heritage Site.

There are three National Trust for Scotland staff on the island during the summer season. The St Kilda Ranger, who manages the NTS facilities and visitor services, the Marine and Seabird Ranger, whose remit is monitoring the famous seabirds of St Kilda, and myself. In a sentence, my role is to ensure the conservation of the cultural heritage of St Kilda in line with the Management Plan agreed between all parties involved in the island. What that translates to is quite a diverse list of tasks which meet current conservation standards and have been thoroughly considered by the NTS and the other legislative, advisory, and governmental institutions involved with the island.

Kilda Manse
The Manse, built in 1828-29 by Robert Stevenson of Bell Rock fame, is the base of NTS operations, and our cozy home away from home! 


The most important element of the job is to record all changes to the cultural heritage of the archipelago. By keeping an accurate record we gain highly useful data which can be used to assess and mitigate the impact of people and the changing climate upon the built environment and the archaeology. For example, if a Cleit (the famous drystone turf roofed storage structures unique to St Kilda) collapsed during heavy rain, accurate records such as photos and descriptions could allow us to rebuild it stone for stone. These records could also inform us if it had been repaired previously, and if so, what methods were used and by what metric were they successful. They also allow us to monitor change over wide areas which can reveal important patterns when paired with other data, such as impact of high footfall, storm events, or water seepage over time. By regularly inspecting the structures on the island we also have a good idea of the state of the built environment in our care. Before the first NTS archaeologist took up residence in the mid-1990’s our record is fragmented, meaning our conservation decisions are not as well informed as they could otherwise be. Now the data from this regular monitoring work goes into an impressive database which can be consulted readily so we can better understand the impact and effectiveness of our conservation decisions.

Kilda drystone repair
Engaged in a bit of drystone repair in the rain with the first Work Party. I am the very damp one to the right. 


Another important part of the job is to work closely with volunteers and specialist contractors when carrying out repairs to the built environment. Not only am I on hand to record all works, but having a qualified archaeologist present it is one of the conditions Historic Environment Scotland requires when giving the NTS consent to undertake works within the Scheduled areas of St Kilda. It is very important to carry out the archaeologically sensitive tasks using the exact methodology agreed between Historic Environment Scotland and the NTS, as this methodology has been carefully researched and considered against a number of conservation principles. Additionally it is important to be on hand for any discoveries; always expect the unexpected in archaeology!

Kilda Flint in turf roof
A small flint core which had fallen out of the drying turf on a cleit roof, spotted by Jordan, one of our work party members   



Kilda Repaired cleit roof
A finely patched Cleit turf roof courtesy of the second Work Party. Looks like a great big tortoise! 


If there are any works needed to be undertaken that fall out with the regular tasks covered in the management agreement, such as digging a new drain to alleviate flooding, running a new cable, or replacing a door, it is my task to argue the case for it by applying for Scheduled Monument Consent. This involves desk based research into the archaeological background of the area and careful consideration of the impact on the natural and cultural environment. Then if consent is granted, I oversee the task to ensure conditions are met and update the record accordingly. Along similar lines, I will occasionally undertake research on structures which have not been looked at in detail before, and write statements of significance for them to better inform our conservation strategies.

Kilda drains
Work party members excavating a blocked St Kildan drain under ‘The Street’ in the village. 


There is another side of my job, largely unrelated to archaeology but no less vital; working with my colleagues to ensure the smooth operation of this remote dual world heritage site. St Kilda truly is the jewel in the NTS crown, with over 6000 visitors a year and growing. Operating the site efficiently requires a close working relationship between the three NTS staff on island as well as the good people at the base. The list of tasks here is vast and dynamic, but I often help out in the shop, greeting visitors coming off of the boats, and keeping the place clean and tidy. Visitors commonly find me pottering about the village peeking into drains and inspecting the drystone masonry, and I really enjoy chatting to them about my role here on island and ongoing conservation efforts. After all, I would not be out here if I didn’t love my job.

Kilda shy sheep
Resident Soay lamb after being told off for climbing the walls



Kilda feet up
Putting my feet up after a day of monitoring   



Kilda base
Home away from home (away from home) 


Craig Stanford – NTS ST Kilda Archaeologist – June 2017

‘Ye Jacobites by Name’

This year sees a major focus on the Jacobites with the National Museums of Scotland presenting their exhibition in the summer.  Last week saw the anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, which was marked by the annual parade out to the cairn and a number of talks at the visitor centre.

Lenman’s 1982 book on the Jacobites and NTS properties


It has long been known that many Trust properties have a link to the Jacobites indeed back in 1982 Bruce Lenman wrote a book ‘The Jacobite Cause’ written in association with the National Trust for Scotland (copies can still be found on line). This publication listed the numerous well known Trust properties related to the Jacobites – Culloden, Killiecrankie, Glenshiel and Glencoe, amongst others, but also touched on some less-well-known connections. As part of a talk on the Archaeology of the Jacobite Risings given at Culloden last April (2016) I did some further research into the Trust’s Jacobite connections. In particular I had a good browse through Livingtsone, Aikman and Hart’s edited volume ‘No Quarter Given’ (1984) which lists the named individuals that were on the muster roll of Princes Charles Edward Stuart’s army between 1745 and 1746.

No quarter
The excellent book that lists all the known 1745-6 Jacobite rank and file by name.


It was a relatively straightforward process to scan through this excellent publication and pick out names of places which are part of Trust properties or at least closely associated with them. Obviously it goes without saying that Culloden has the strongest link and the vast majority of names listed in the book were at the battle itself, if they had not already been wounded or killed in the preceding campaign or captured at Carlisle.

Probably the Trust property with the most men serving in the ranks at Culloden was Glencoe. Despite the fact that the major settlement at the mouth of the glen lies outwith the Trust property boundary, the settlement sites of Inverigan, Achnacon and Achtriachtan, which are on Trust land, are mentioned frequently. Achtriachtan township supplied 11 men all MacDonalds apart from one Duncan MacStalker. Angus MacDonald of Achtriachtan was second in command of the Glencoe unit but was killed at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. Some of the Achtriachtan men’s occupations are also listed: one was a drover, another a merchant while another, Alexander MacDonald, was the change keeper (with his son). The latter is of interest as it suggests there was a change house, or Inn, at Achtriachtan. In addition there was a Donald and Neil Rankine from Inverigan and a Duncan MacKendrick and William Stewart from Achnacon.  An Angus and a John MacIntosh also from Achnacon marched with the Appin Stewarts.

One of the recently discovered turf houses at Achtriachtan in Glencoe. Could this be the change house kept by Alexander MacDonald?


The Trust’s property at Glenfinnan is actually quite a small area of land around the monument that commemorates the raising of the standard on the 19th August 1745, but when you look through the muster roll the placename appears a number of times. Angus Mor, from Glenfinnan, was in MacDonald of Clanranld’s regiment, along with Ranald and Alexander MacDonald, Angus MacIssak, Ewan and John MacMyllan and Angus McPherson, a tailor. I wonder if these men were recruited from the initial raising of the standard, on their own doorstep, and marched with the army all the way down to Derby and back.

Other Jacobite names associated with Trust properties include Alexander Irvine of Drum who served in one of the cavalry regiments, Pitsligo’s Horse, he escaped to the continent after Culloden and died in exile in 1761. One of his two servants, who is recorded as the gardener at Drum, James Anthony, was captured but eventually pardoned. John McKenzie of Torridon, was a gentleman volunteer within the MacDonell of Keppoch’s regiment but died alongside his uncle, Alexander MacDonell of Keppoch, at Culloden.

From the town of Alloa there was: John Marshall a labourer, John Allan a wright and James Main a brewer. The last two individuals served as Sergeants in Grante’s Artillery and Main was captured at Culloden and executed on 1st November 1746. From Dunkeld James Mann, a baker, was taken at Carlisle and was transported while his fellow townsman, William Miller, a 14 year old waggoner, was captured at Culloden but later discharged.

Robert Thomson, the farmer at the Mains of Dun, fought with Ogilvy’s Forfarshire Regiment, which managed to retire in good order from Culloden to Ruthven and then disbanded in Angus. Another farmer, this time Anthony Leith, from the Bogs of Leith Hall, rode in Avochie’s Strathbogie Battalion of horse and was captured at Culloden but later pardoned.

These are just some of the named individuals that fought for the Jacobites in the ‘45 that have close connections to Trust properties but there are bound to others like Alexander McNab and Duncan McGregor who were both in the Atholl Brigade and are listed as coming from Breadalbane (which could include Ben Lawers). James MacDonald, who fought in Clanranald’s regiment was a farmer from Eigg but was also the factor for the island of Canna.

Looking through the Muster Roll is a sobering experience. It really hits home just how many people were involved in the Jacobite army of the ’45 and gives their names and occupations. So often history focuses on the elites and when names are mentioned it is usually the leaders and in this case regimental commanders and clan chiefs that get mentioned but here are the names of ordinary men, with ordinary job titles, caught up in extraordinary events. As a list of people from places across Scotland it would be great to see this converted into a database and a GIS map version being produced.

Also we haven’t looked at the Hanoverian regiments – where did they all come from?


Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeological Services, April 2017


Highland Landscapes contain hidden evidence for past change


Ruined 19th century house at Cuiltranich on slopes of Ben Lawers


Whether driving along the roads or walking through the hills of Highland Scotland, the tumbled ruinous remains of abandoned stone-built houses and farmsteads are an all-too-familiar sight. These evocative ruins are a legacy of rural depopulation stemming from a combination of changes in land tenure during the agricultural improvements, the attraction of employment in growing industrial centres, opening of better communication routes, emigration and of course enforced clearance from land. Understanding these landscapes, and how they changed over time, is key to understanding the history of Scotland.

Map showing project area and main excavation sites


 The Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project, undertaken between 2002-2005, has just been published as a Scottish Internet Archaeology (SAIR) report ( ). Entitled ‘Ben Lawers: An Archaeological Landscape in Time’, the report presents the results of this landmark research project undertaken on the National Trust for Scotland’s property of Ben Lawers on North Loch Tayside. The project was one of the biggest of its type in Scotland and the report will be the touchstone for all future archaeological work on medieval and post-medieval landscapes in the Highlands.


 Volunteers, on National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camps, undertook over 22 weeks -worth of survey and excavation over four seasons, supervised by professional archaeologists from GUARD. Dr John Atkinson, Director of GUARD Archaeology Ltd, and the report’s main author targeted fieldwork at exploring remains dating to the last 1000 years of human settlement but also located evidence for prehistoric activity on the mountain side, some dating back to the Mesolithic around 9000 years ago.


 Excavation of over 70 trenches investigated a wide range of sites from turf-built medieval structures, pre-improvement fermtouns and to late 18th/ early 19th century stone-built single tenancy farm units built on the old outfields. The remains of faint traces of turf-built structures dating to the 11th-13th centuries AD was a major is discovery for this part of upland Perthshire. The survival of medieval turf structures, above the limit of later agriculture, was one of the most exciting parts of the project. There is the potential that other buildings survive out there as yet un-detected.

Excavation of turf 11th-12th century structure above Kiltyrie


 The project was a truly multi-disciplinary affair with input from landscape surveyors and archaeologists, geophysicists, historians, place-name experts, and soil scientists and palaeoenvironmental scientists from numerous institutions and universities. The result is one of the most intensively investigated landscapes in Scotland. 


Shieling sites, where cattle were taken to graze in the summer months, are well-known to walkers and climbers in the Scottish hills and there are hundreds of small turf huts on the upper-slopes of Ben Lawers, clearly marked on OS maps. However, very few shieling huts have been excavated previously and the results of the project are some of the most extensive to date. The evidence from the excavated shielings highlights their lack of permanence, from the makeshift roofing arrangements to the lack of material culture and even, in some cases, the apparent absence of hearths. In dating terms the evidence suggests that the tradition was certainly active in the 16th and 17th centuries and probably came to an end towards the end of the 18th century, although occasional use may have extended beyond this.

Excavation of shieling hut at top of Lawers Burn at Meall Greigh


 A detailed mapping survey of the mountain by RCAHMS revealed over 2000 individual structures and 300km of stone dykes, earth banks and trackways. This wealth of upstanding archaeology is complimented by the sheer depth of documentary information held in the records of the huge Breadalbane Estate of the Campbells of Glenorchy.  The published report has managed to tie in many of the excavated sites to specific references held within the archives.


Publication of the Ben Lawers results is a major leap-forward in our understanding of upland landscapes and is likely to be typical of many other parts of Scotland. It is fantastic that the report is available on line and so is freely available to everyone from university researchers to interested locals.


Ben Lawers: An Archaeological Landscape in Time. Results from the Ben Lawers Historic Landscape Project, 1996–2005′ by John Atkinson has recently been published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland as Scottish Archaeological Internet Report 62




National Trust for Scotland Archaeology and HHA2017

Happy New Year!

The new year sees the start of the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology in Scotland (Twitter #HHA17) and the end of the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. These themed years are promoted and co-ordinated by VisitScotland to encourage both locals and tourists to take advantage of the variety of places that Scotland has to offer. It was interesting to hear that Rough Guides included Scotland in their list of top ten places to visit in 2017 and many Trust properties feature prominently in their Scotland edition.


According to VisitScotland , ‘In the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 we celebrate the richness of Scotland’s intriguing history, impressive cultural heritage and fascinating archaeology at exciting experiences and events.’ Residents and visitors alike are invited to ‘explore ancient sites that date from the Neolithic era, uncover the history of the Scottish clan and taste whisky and local delicacies that have been hand crafted in Scotland for hundreds of years’.

It seems apt then that we should review just what role the NTS properties can play in this celebration from an archaeological point of view. A few years ago we completed a review of the archaeological resource within the Trust’s portfolio of more than 129 properties. It is wide ranging, covering both the built properties and the countryside and island properties alike. In total the Trust cares for around 11,000 archaeological sites and features. Of these about 100 are designated as Scheduled Monuments. Of the 1000 roofed historic buildings in Trust care over 270 are listed and also require archaeological management.  We have 33 sites within the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscape and bits of 8 Historic Battlefields. Two of our mountain properties form core elements within Scotland’s two National Parks and we have properties forming part of two World Heritage Sites, while the St Kilda  archipelago is an entire WHS in its own right.

Crarae chambered cairn, Mid-Argyll – one of over 100 Scheduled Monuments in NTS care

The chronological range of our archaeology ranges from the remains of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer activity right through to Second World War plane crash sites and military installations. Obviously many of our countryside and island properties have prehistoric remains and sites but a good number of our properties which are medieval castles and country houses, set within designed landscapes, belong to the period of the 14th century onwards (see the attached graph).

Numbers of NTS properties with archaeological evidence for these prehistoric and historic time periods.

As with most years, 2017 will see a wide range of archaeological outreach activities at many of our properties. Small pieces of fieldwork and conservation will be carried out by our programme of Thistle Camps, with archaeological camps being held at Inverewe, Culzean, Brodick and Canna. Other opportunities for volunteer engagement will arise throughout the year such as the ongoing investigations by test-pitting at Bannockburn. There will be public talks and guided walks undertaken in conjunction with our property staff and rangers. Old favourites such as the Culzean Ancient Skills Day (usually in early August) will be held throughout the year.

To mark the year we will be using Twitter to showcase many of our less-well-known archaeological sites that people might like to visit on their own.


We would be keen to hear from you with any ideas of how you would like to see archaeology in the NTS engage with our members and visitors.

Derek Alexander

Head of Archaeological Services

All I want for Xmas….

If you’re like me, you end up hunting for Xmas presents in all the usual shops which only stock things that you’d like to receive as gifts. That means bookshops! Unfortunately though, it is getting harder and harder to find bookshops with good selections of Scottish history and archaeology titles. I discovered last weekend to my dismay that the Oswald Street Bookshop, in Glasgow, has closed down. I suppose there’s always the online websites and it is amazing what second hand material is still available. I did a quick search for some of my favourite Trust archaeology books.

Many of the National Trust for Scotland’s properties have books written about their archaeological and historical aspects. This year, for example, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of John Prebble’s book ‘Glencoe’ (1966), an account of the 1692 massacre. This is still the best and most readable version of the background to the tragic event. Prebble’s typescript for both this book and his Culloden book (1962) were donated by him to the Trust’s archive.

prebble-1966 culloden-pollard

Culloden has likewise attracted a wide range of publications but perhaps one of the best overviews of the history, archaeology and subsequent memorialisation of the battlefield, is within Tony Pollard’s edited volume (2008). Bannockburn has yet to attract a similar published overview although the results of the fieldwork leading up to 2014, the 700th anniversary, were published in an article in Current Archaeology Magazine (Bailie 2015).

hirta-emery hirte-harman

By far, the Trust’s property over which most ink has been spilt on its history and archaeology, is St Kilda. Books like Mary Harman’s (1997) and Norman Emery’s, out of print HMSO book (1996), can be tracked down on-line and are key to understanding the islands of the archipelago. Harman’s magnificent in-depth research covered all aspects of St Kildan life and material culture, from bedsteads to climbing ropes, while for many years Emery’s volume was one of the most accessible published accounts of post-medieval settlement archaeology in Scotland and perhaps didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.

winds-of-change st-kilda-gnnon-and-geddes

With the publication of the ‘Winds of Change’ volume (Harden and Lelong 2011), still available from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the publication of previous invasive fieldwork on Hirta has been brought up to date. The RCAHMS’s detailed survey work on both Hirta and the outlying island of Boreray has recently been published (Gannon and Geddes and 2015). Indeed the latter volume has just been nominated in the Current Archaeology awards category for possible ‘Book of the Year’ (vote on line at ).

Other Trust islands have also attracted study. If you watched the recent BBC TV programmes on Fair Isle you would have heard about the important bird observatory on the island but may have missed reference to the significant historical and archaeological remains. Well fear not, you can always get a copy of John Hunters volume (1997) which describes the survey work he undertook with his students from Birmingham University in the early 1990s. Even more recently, Hunter has produced a beautifully illustrated book (2016) based largely on his own fieldwork and that of the RCAHMS, on the Small Isles, which includes an excellent chapter on Canna.

fair-isle small-isles

It is not just the islands that have been the subject of targeted fieldwork, specific site types have been investigated at Rockcliffe and Crathes. The important 6th-7th century AD, vitrified fort and metal-working site of the Mote of Mark was excavated in the early 20th century and then again in the 1970s but it wasn’t until 2006 that the full publication was available (Laing and Longley). The detailed results of excavations on the cropmark remains of the Neolithic timber hall at Crathes and the adjacent Mesolithic pit alignment are also available as a monograph (Murray, Murray & Fraser 2009).

mote-of-mark warren-field

So if you are looking for an archaeological present for Xmas then one of the above publications would fit the bill. Alternatively, much of our historical and archaeological research in the National Trust for Scotland finds its way into our Trust guidebooks, interpretation panels and trail leaflets, but even better would be to get out and visit the properties. Membership of the NTS would also make a good Xmas present…

Bibliography – Xmas Shopping List!

Bailie, W 2015 ‘Bannockburn: seeking Scotland’s Seminal Battlefield’, Current Archaeology, Issue 303, June 2015, 12-18. (not a book but you can always get a subscription for the magazine)

Emery, N 1996 Excavations on Hirta 1986-90. HMSO. Edinburgh

Gannon, A and Geddes, G 2015 St Kilda: The Last and Outmost Isle. Historic Environment Scotland.

Harden, J and Lelong, O 2011 Winds of Change: The Living Landscapes of Hirta, St Kilda. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Harman, M 1997 An Isle Called Hirte: A History and Culture of St Kilda to 1930. Maclean Press.

Hunter, J 1997 Fair Isle: Archaeology of an Island Community. HMSO

Hunter, J 2016 The Small Isles. Historic Environment Scotland.

Laing, L and Longley, D 2006 The Mote of Mark: A Dark Age Hillfort in South-west Scotland. Oxbow Monograph.

Murray, HK, Murray, JC and Fraser, S 2009 A Tale of the Unknown Unknowns: A Mesolithic Pit Alignment and a Neolithic Timber Hall at Warren Field, Crathes, Aberdeenshire.  Oxbow Books

Prebble, J 1962 Culloden.

Prebble, J 1966 Glencoe: the Story of the Massacre.

Pollard, T (ed) 2009 Culloden: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle. Pen and Sword.

Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeological Services, December 2016





Industrial Archaeology in NTS

In preparation for a recent talk at the National Mining Museum Scotland I had to prepare an overview of industrial archaeological sites in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of John Butt’s excellent book on ‘Industrial Archaeology of Scotland’. Out of the 200, or so, sites that he lists in his gazetteer only four are related to Trust properties: Preston Mill; Barry Mill; Weaver’s Cottage and Blantyre cotton mill, adjacent to the David Livingstone Centre. Perhaps rightly, therefore, the Trust is not often considered a major player in the conservation of Scotland’s industrial heritage, however, there are a number of exceptions.

Butt’s 1967 book only mentions four NTS sites


The Trust’s industrial remains tend to be small scale and often relate to the large countryside properties and rural/cottage industries. For example the Weaver’s Cottage in Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire is an excellent example of the type of industrial scale dispersed production typical of many parts of Scotland from the 18th and 19th centuries. Excavation in the rear garden has uncovered the remains of a weaving shed (outbuilding) built to take an extra hand-loom during the late 19th century when the process was at its height with over 800 working looms in the village. It is interesting to note how such cottage industries continued to thrive in much of rural Scotland at the same time as many of the large cotton mills were set up in the west.

Often landowners and merchants of the middle class were the ones able to invest in the development of new industrial processes. Sir George Bruce who built Culross Palace established a major coal mine in 1575 that extended out under the waters of the Firth of Forth until it was destroyed by a storm in 1625. The coal was exported but was also used to fire Bruce’s other industry: the production of salt. In 1590 there were 44 salt pans in Culross and it supplied 89% of salt exports. On the opposite, southern, bank of the river, at Bo’ness, the Trust’s Little Houses Improvement Scheme work on Dymock’s Buildings uncovered the remains of a major salt pan and two iron vats which may have been for processing whale oil. This work was completed in 2003 when the building was fully recorded and excavation work carried out in the interior.  The salt pan was roughly spade-shaped in plan and was up to 9m across with walls 1.8m thick. There were two angled flues in the straight southern wall and in the interior heavily heat-affected stones were oxidized to a brilliant red.

Burnt stone within the salt pan below Dymock’s Building, Bo’ness


Early industries were usually established close to the source of natural resources and often these are found occurring together. Thus coal, iron and lime industries are often found in the same parts of the country. Large scale use of lime was common in the 18th century for spreading on fields but also for use in building works. At Brodick Castle on Arran volunteers on excavated a clamp kiln probably associated with the extension of the castle in 1844 by the architect Gillespie-Graham. The kiln is a boat-shaped hollow, 6m long by 2.7m wide and up to 0.9m deep, on the eastern side of the Mill Burn. Fieldwork  was undertaken in 2003/4 by volunteers on a Trust Thistle Camp (working holiday) and is now included in one of the trails around the gardens.

Excavation of the Brodick Castle clamp kiln


The excavation cleared an area in front of the structure, part of the interior, and three trenches around it. Removal of vegetation from the inside quickly revealed that it was lined with stones, many of which showed clear traces of heavy burning and shattering. Even the earth on the south-west side of the structure  had been oxidized to a bright orange colour by the intense heat. This evidence of extremely high temperatures would have been enough to suggest the function of the structure  but a thick deposit of white lime along the base confirmed that it was indeed a limekiln. At the entrance to the kiln evidence was found for an internal stone-built flue which appears to have run the full length of the structure. This would have allowed air  to be drawn into the core of the kiln and would have raised the temperature considerably.  The discovery of fragments of clay drainage pipes may also suggest that these were incorporated in to the fill of the kiln to provide further air spaces.

Two other small clamp kilns are known on Arran; one at Monyquil and another at Bridge Farm, near Shiskine.  It is possible that all three kilns were built at the same time as part of the estate improvements across the island. Other small scale rural kilns have been found  on Trust land at Kiltyrie, Ben Lawers and Ben Lomond. A large draw-kiln has also been found at Pitmedden Garden, Aberdeenshire.

Limestone for these kilns was usually quarried in the vicinity and there are traces of quarry scoops above the castle parks at Brodick and across the lower slopes of Ben Lawers. Other traces of quarrying work are also visible higher up on the latter mountain where half-completed millstones can still be seen. Other millstone quarries are also visible on the island of Mingulay. Sandstone was quarried from the sea-cliff along the coast beside Culzean Castle and was used for building stone on the estate. Perhaps the most interesting quarry site on Trust land is the marble quarry on Iona.

Conserving the Iona marble quarry machinery


Volunteers on a recent Thistle Camp to Iona have been helping to conserve the machinery at the Iona marble quarry. Preservation of the iron machinery in such an exposed location close to the sea has always been difficult but over the years maintenance has at least reduced the rate of decay. Trust staff supervised the cleaning of the gas generator tank, the removal of corrosion, and the application of multiple coats of zinc phosphate primer before the final painting of black gloss. Future Camps will continue the ongoing conservation work on other elements of the machinery. Although Iona marble was probably quarried in medieval times and the Duke of Argyll authorised work in the late 18th century, the remains on the site today date to the work undertaken by the Iona Marble Company which was in operation from 1907 – 1913.

The Trust’s one connection to a large scale mill complex is at the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre where the workers accommodation, blocks of rows of tenements, were related to the cotton spinning mills set up by David Dale and James Monteith in the 1780s. It was in one of these tenements that David Livingstone was born in 1813. The foundations of Blantyre Lodge, the mill manager’s house, have been the subject of a couple of excavations. Similarly, the two brothers who owned Millholm Paper Mill in Cathcart, Glasgow, built their villas just above the mill site and the one that survives is Holmwood House, designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.

Cross-section of Preston Mill kiln undertaken as part of a full Historic Building Survey



Smaller grain mills are a lot more common on Trust properties with the fully functioning Barry Mill and Preston Mill being major visitor attractions in their own right. Other Trust properties and estates also have numerous small mill sites such as Sunnyside Mill at Culzean or the site of Kilmahew mill at Geilston, near Cardross. Established as a corn mill in the 1830s, the latter site also saw phases of use as a lint mill and finally a saw mill for a large Clyde shipbuilding firm before it burnt down in 1912. At the House of the Binns, in West Lothian, evidence also points to more than one mill on the estate.

There are traces of other rural industries on Trust properties.  Canna, and particularly Sanday, in the Small Isles, have the remains of numerous kelp kilns. Survey plans have been drawn of many of the kelp kilns and they are usually formed of parallel settings of stones just over one meter wide but up to 20m long. In the 18th and 19th century seaweed was collected and dried on the foreshore before being burnt in these kilns to produce soda ash, which could then be sold for use in bleaching and the  production of soap, glass and gunpowder. A couple of the kilns on Sanday have been the subject of small investigative trial trenches.

Elongated setting of stones marks the site of a kelp kiln on Sanday

On the lower slopes of Ben Lomond there are the traces of two other rural industries. The grass covered mounds of iron slag in the fields above Ardess mark the sites of iron bloomeries.  Bog iron was heated in a small furnace arrangement to produce a bloom of iron that could then be hammer down by a blacksmith into a useable product. It is likely that the charcoal used in the process would have been made in the adjacent woodlands.  The site of one of the slag heaps and possible furnaces can be visited on the Ardess Hidden History Trail. Last but not least, there are traces on the same hillside of an illicit whisky still. Despite being small in scale the number of illicit whisky stills suggests that quite large quantities were being produced and traded throughout the country. The Trust has other potential illicit whisky still sites at Mar Lodge, Ben Lawers and Torridon.


This brief overview hopefully provides an impression of the range of industrial archaeology sites that can be found on Trust properties. There are others sites that could be considered for example the Culzean Gas House, the hydro-electric intakes and dams on the slopes of Ben Lawers, or the numerous sections of roads and railway lines that cross Trust land.

Derek Alexander

Head of Archaeological Services, NTS

Still searching…

Still searching – evidence for illicit whisky production on NTS properties

When I heard David Hayman was fronting a BBC2 TV programme called ‘Scotch! The Story of Whisky’ I was immediately transported in my mind’s eye to a hidden spot on the western slopes of Ben Lomond, at the base of the Sput Ban (white spout) waterfall, in a steep sided gulley, where there are the remains of what appears to be an illicit whisky still site. It has long been one of my favourite sites on Trust land after it was shown to me by Alasdair Eckersall, long-standing NTS Ranger, Property Manager, and enthusiast for all things Ben Lomond!

It is by no means an impressive archaeological site. It consists of a small level platform 3m long by 2m wide recessed into the slope. At the upper end there is a short length of dry stone retaining wall.  But what a location!  Hidden from direct view, it is right beside a mountain stream and the waterfall would have helped to disperse any smoke from the fire which could also have been explained away as spray or mist.  The water was used not just for the production of the ‘uisge beatha’ but also cold water was required to cool the still worm in which the evaporated spirits condensed.  In addition, the location would have provided fuel for the fire, both wood and peat (from the adjacent hillsides). There is also a slight overhang in the bed-rock beside the platform which may have provided a certain amount of shelter from the elements or have been used to pack away equipment and supplies when not in use.

p1080433The Ben Lomond still site

Illicit stills generally belong to the period from the early eighteenth century to around the 1840s. Although the chance of recovering artefacts directly related to the distilling process is small, there is always that potential. A copper still worm was found in Carrick Castle, Argyll, during excavation work in the 1990s and is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland.  It is more likely, however, that fragments of 18th century glass bottles and pottery may be found.  We would also hope to locate the firespot where the pot-still would have been heated. Charcoal from this fire could be identified to wood species and possibly barley grains may also been carbonized in the fire.

We undertook a detailed topographic survey of the Ben Lomond site back in 2011 and an exploratory trench, although the results of the latter showed a great depth of in-washed sediment from the rocky sides of the gulley. No artefacts were recovered – perhaps it was kept very clean or tidied up!

Given the extensive land holdings of the Trust there are likely to be other illicit whisky still sites out there. The RCAHMS surveyed the remains of six sites on the Mar Lodge Estate and there are at least two potential sites on the slopes of Ben Lawers, above Loch Tay. One of my other favourites is at Torridon, on the lower southern slopes of the mighty Liathach. Here, once again hidden from view is a small stone-built hut or shelter only approachable along a narrow path above the burn. On the adjacent hillside, also out of sight from the valley bottom and the road, is a natural terrace which bears traces of rigs (for growing barley?) and a kiln (for malting?).

There is certainly still potential to do more research work on our whisky sites!

may-2010-034The Torridon still site on the lower slopes of Liathach.

Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeological Services, NTS

11th October 2016